I don’t ever remember a time during which I’ve been more concerned about the future of our country.
the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest eclipsed our lives and
dominated our news outlets and social media channels, I spoke often of
my concern about the epidemic of leadership malpractice prevalent
throughout our society and the effect it is having in every aspect of
Now, we find our country in the midst of a level of
discourse more toxic and divisive than I’ve ever witnessed and it is
contributing to levels of conflict, anxiety and stress that have become
We are more divided by issues than united in purpose.
week, my friend Bill Ury, sharing similar concerns, called me to
explore how to heal the brokenness of the current environment. Bill is the co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and co-author of the international bestseller “Getting to Yes.”
He is one of the world’s foremost experts on conflict resolution and
has spent almost 30 years helping opponents in tough negotiations
find common ground. Bill has visited Barry-Wehmiller to experience Truly
In our exchange, I shared my perspective: When
88% of the people who have jobs feel like they work for an organization
that does not care for them, they do not feel valued. They feel used
for someone’s else gain. In business, in politics, in our neighborhoods
and communities, so often, people are not treated with the dignity and
respect they deserve. In turn, it is difficult for those who do not feel
cared for to care for others.
How do we solve this epidemic of anguish our society is experiencing?
and I both agree that it begins with listening. True empathetic listening,
where one actually hears the other person’s words and feelings. A
listening that builds empathy, as it allows us to see things from others'
perspectives. It is the key to all meaningful relationships, as it shows
that you respect and care for the person you are hearing.
years ago, when Bill visited Barry-Wehmiller, he saw firsthand how the
course we teach on empathetic listening was having a profoundly positive
impact both inside our company and on our team members’ personal lives.
The course has proven so powerful that we are now bringing it to
communities and outside organizations through the nonprofit my wife
Cynthia and I founded, Our Community Listens, and through Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute, our leadership consulting firm.
the time, Bill called it “the answer to world peace.” He saw a company
trying to facilitate caring as an organizational practice. As he and I
spoke the other day, we know it’s the antidote to the epidemic of
anguish in our country right now.
The morning after our conversation, Bill shared an editorial by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that elegantly captures the essence of the message we have been sharing with the world:
in my view, is the most underestimated force in politics and
international relations. The poverty of dignity explains so much more
behavior than the poverty of money. People will absorb hardship, hunger
and pain. They will be grateful for jobs, cars and benefits. But if you
make people feel humiliated, they will respond with a ferocity unlike
any other emotion, or just refuse to lift a finger for you. As Nelson
Mandela once observed, ‘There is nobody more dangerous than one who has
By contrast, if you show
people respect, if you affirm their dignity, it is amazing what they
will let you say to them or ask of them. Sometimes it just takes
listening to them, but deep listening — not just waiting for them to
stop talking. Because listening is the ultimate sign of respect. What
you say when you listen speaks more than any words.
Care is the cure, as my friend Tony Schwartz once said. How do we care? By listening.
as Carol Bruess of St. Norbert University recently told me, “Deep
listening is the antidote to, and the antithesis of, humiliation.”
don’t believe these problems in our country can be solved by the
government. The government can’t mandate empathetic listening or care.
It’s a much deeper, complex problem that isn’t about legislation; it’s
about the way we experience each other. As I wrote two years ago, what we need is a human revolution in our country and in the world:
Industrial Revolution was never about allowing people to express their
gifts fully. It was about value creation. The assumption was that good
paying and steady jobs with benefits raised the standard of living and
would create the foundation for happiness.
the piece business has missed and that’s the piece we’ve found on our
journey at Barry-Wehmiller. People are capable of doing amazing things
if we just give them the environment in which they can discover,
develop, share, and be appreciated for their gifts.
Human Revolution is about organizational leadership reconnecting with
their own humanity and recognizing the humanity of those they lead.
Recognizing that the people within their span of care are not numbers on
a spreadsheet that are part of the calculations that equal profit and
loss, but someone’s precious children and should be treated accordingly.
Recognizing that the people within their span of care are not just
functions, but whole beings who are capable of so much more than the
role they are pigeonholed into.
When we treat
people with respect and dignity and create opportunities through which
they can realize their potential and be appreciated for it is how we, in
business, can fix the broken American Dream.
We can balance economic value with human value, where everyone benefits.
we reflect on the growing anxiety, depression and cultural unrest in
our country, we must quickly become united in purpose by looking beyond
our differences to see the beauty in every precious life. Empathetic
listening allows us to see our common ground.
Another New York Times article by Kate Murphy from earlier this year also captured the value of listening:
was the last time you listened to someone? Really listened, without
thinking about what you wanted to say next, glancing down at your phone
or jumping in to offer your opinion? And when was the last time someone
really listened to you? Was so attentive to what you were saying and
whose response was so spot on that you felt truly understood?
are encouraged to listen to our hearts, our inner voices and our guts,
but rarely are we encouraged to listen carefully and purposefully to
other people. Instead, we talk over one another at cocktail parties,
work meetings and even family dinners. Online and in person, it’s all
about defining yourself, shaping the narrative and staying on message…
people typically don’t want you to solve their problems, much less
ignore or minimize their feelings. They just want recognition,
understanding and, above all, acceptance.
educational institutions and business organizations taught the skills of
empathetic listening, if we became leaders instead of managers, if we
embraced the important responsibilities of leading those in our care, we
could see beyond this world of anxiety and tension to the better world
we imagine and know is within our grasp!
What can we do right now,
right this moment to begin the change? Listen. To your family, friends
and co-workers. To people you don’t know. To people who are different
than you are. Expand your circle of care and help others feel cared for.
That’s how the revolution to end the poverty of dignity begins, with care.